Slobodan Milosevic was president of the Republic of Serbia (then the Socialist Republic of Serbia) from May 8, 1989, until July 1997, when he was elected president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Milosevic served as president of the FRY until October 6, 2000, when he relinquished his position following an electoral defeat and mass protests in Belgrade. As president, Milosevic was the most powerful person in Serbia during the break-up of Yugoslavia and the conflicts that ensued.

Violence in the region began in 1990. Serbs in Croatia founded the nationalistic Serbian Democratic Party, which advocated for the autonomy—and later secession—of predominantly-Serb areas of Croatia, including the so-called Krajina. Late in 1990 Croatian Serbs in Knin, the largest town in Krajina, announced their independence from Croatia. Conflicts between Serbs and Croatian police began in spring 1991 as Croatian Serbs attempted to consolidate their power over more areas with significant Serb populations.

On June 25, 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia. Although the Federal Presidency of Yugoslavia subsequently agreed to withdraw the Yugoslav army (JNA) from Slovenia (which had almost no Serb population) and accede to its secession, the same was not true of Croatia, which had a significant Serb population. Throughout 1991 the JNA and Serbia’s Ministry of the Interior assisted Serbs in different parts of Croatia, notably Krajina and Eastern and Western Slavonia. On September 25, 2001, the Security Council issued Resolution 713 which implemented a general and complete embargo on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Yugoslavia.4 Substantial areas of Croatia came under Serb control as a result of actions by Serb military, volunteer, and police forces conducted with JNA support. In the Serb-occupied areas, non-Serbs were systematically forced out, killed, or subjected to acts of violence and persecution. After the three-month siege of Vukovar, the city fell to Serb forces. A ceasefire agreement was arranged in Geneva and eventually Serb-occupied areas were turned into United Nations Protected Areas.5 Serb-occupied areas in Krajina and Western Slavonia were recaptured by Croatian forces in 1995 during two military offensives that resulted in widespread abuses against Serb civilians (including killing and cruel treatment) occurring as part of an ethnic cleansing operation.6 Eastern Slavonia was transferred from Serb control to UN authority in January 1996. In January 1998 Croatia regained full sovereignty of the region.

In the meantime, Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovinabegan to organize as the likelihood of that republic’s secession from Yugoslavia became more apparent. From September through December 1991 Bosnian Serbs in areas with Serb majorities began to form Serb Autonomous Regions (SAOs). This culminated in a November 1991 plebiscite of Bosnian Serbs during which the overwhelming majority of Bosnian Serbs voted to remain in Yugoslavia or become an independent Serb state. On January 9, 1992, the Assembly of the Serbian People of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a declaration on the Proclamation of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was declared to include “the territories of the Serbian Autonomous Regions and Districts and of other Serbian ethnic identities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the regions in which the Serbian people remained in the minority due to the genocide conducted against it in World War Two.”

In late February and early March 1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina held a referendum on the question of independence, which resulted in a majority favoring independence and secession from Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serbs boycotted the referendum. From April onwards, Serb forces seized control of large areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina, forcibly removing non-Serbs and subjecting them to systematic violence and persecution.7 N0n-Serbs also committed violations of international humanitarian law against Serbs in Bosnia and are the subject of ICTY proceedings.8

The conflict was eventually brought to a halt in 1995 following NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serb forces and a United States-brokered peace agreement (commonly referred to as the “Dayton agreement” after the US city where it was negotiated) which established a unified Bosnian state with two entities—a predominantly Muslim and Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.

While Yugoslavia was disintegrating, tensions were rising in Kosovo. After its autonomy was effectively revoked in 1989, the Kosovo Albanian leadership engaged in non-violent civil resistance and established parallel institutions in the healthcare and education sectors. This was done in response to the dismissal of thousands of Albanian professionals from their jobs and increased police violence against Kosovo Albanians. In the mid-1990s Kosovo Albanians organized a group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) advocating a campaign of armed insurgency and violent resistance to the Serbian authorities. The KLA began launching attacks primarily against Serbian police forces in mid-1996 and Serbian forces responded with strong operations against suspected KLA bases and supporters in Kosovo.

The conflict intensified in 1998. Although concerned international actors intervened diplomatically and with the deployment of a monitoring mission,9 the violence against Kosovo Albanians continued. As part of the attacks, federal and Serb forces engaged in a campaign to destroy predominantly Albanian villages viewed as supportive of the KLA, with the object of forcing their inhabitants out of Kosovo. The campaign also included killings of Kosovo Albanians.10

On March 24, 1999, NATO began launching air strikes against targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. After the bombing began, federal and Serbian forces intensified their attacks and by June 1999 approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanians had been expelled from Kosovo. The NATO bombing campaign ended on June 9, 1999, and on June 20 Serbian and FRY forces withdrew from Kosovo.11 Since 1999, the United Nations has administered Kosovo with support from a NATO-led peacekeeping force, although it formally remains part of Serbia.

Court Proceedings

The first indictment against Slobodan Milosevic was confirmed on May 24, 1999.12 It alleged that between January 1, 1999, and the date of the indictment, Milosevic and four other high-ranking Serb government and military officials (Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Vlajko Stojiljkovic) participated in a joint criminal enterprise, the object of which was to remove a substantial portion of the Albanian population from Kosovo to ensure Serb control over the province.13 The indictment alleged the enterprise was carried out through a “deliberate and widespread or systematic campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians” that included the murder of hundreds of civilians, destruction and looting of property, and the forcible transfer and deportation of 800,000 Kosovo Albanians. For his role in Kosovo, Milosevic was ultimately charged with five “counts”: four for deportation, forcible transfer, murder, and persecutions, each being a distinct crime against humanity, and also separately for murder amounting to a violation of the laws or customs of war.14 Milosevic was charged both under article 7(1) of the ICTY’s statute for individual responsibility as well as under a theory of command responsibility under article 7(3) for his role as a superior.

Local authorities arrested Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on April 1, 2001, six months after his fall from power. He was transferred to ICTY custody on June 29, 2001. An amended indictment for Kosovo containing the same charges but adding more crime scenes was confirmed by the court that same day. At his initial appearance before the Trial Chamber, Milosevic informed the court that he wished to represent himself. In the interests of ensuring a fair trial, the Trial Chamber, on August 30, 2001, assigned counsel to act as amicus curiae in order to assist the Trial Chamber by, inter alia, making any submissions properly open to the accused.15

On October 8, 2001, the Trial Chamber confirmed a second indictment against Milosevic for events that occurred in Croatia between August 1, 1991, and June 1992, after Croatia declared independence.16 Milosevic and others were alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise, the object of which was to remove the “majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from the approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia that he [Milosevic] planned to become part of a new Serb-dominated state…”17 In order to carry out the enterprise, the indictment alleges Serb forces took control of towns and villages and established a regime of persecutions designed to drive the non-Serb population out. As part of the campaign against non-Serbs they murdered hundreds, imprisoned and tortured thousands in detention centers, committed sexual assault, used forced labor, deported people, and destroyed homes and cultural monuments. The indictment contains 32 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions including persecutions, extermination, murder, unlawful confinement, torture, deportation, forcible transfer, wanton destruction of property, and plunder. Slobodan Milosevic was charged with both individual and command responsibility.

On November 22, 2001, the Trial Chamber confirmed a third indictment against Milosevic for crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.18 The Bosnia indictment similarly alleges that Milosevic participated in a joint criminal enterprise, the aim of which was the forcible removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from large areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The indictment charges that the enterprise was put into effect through widespread killings, detentions, forcible deportation, plunder, and wanton destruction of property. The indictment contains 29 charges including genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and violations of the laws or customs of war in the form of persecutions, murder, torture, deportation, unlawful confinement, wanton destruction, and plunder. Again, Milosevic was charged with both individual and command responsibility for his role in the events.19

The prosecutor moved to try all three cases together on grounds that they were part of the same transaction, arguing that “the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise described in these indictments and the methods applied to achieve the goal are effectively identical.”20 In support of its motion, the prosecution submitted that a single trial would be more expeditious and cost-effective and would ensure consistency of verdict and sentence. The Trial Chamber decided that only the Croatia and Bosnia indictments were to be joined because they formed part of a common plan for removal of non-Serbs from Serb areas, occurred in neighboring states and in close proximity in time. The Trial Chamber held that the Kosovo events, which occurred three years later and within Serbia, were sufficiently distinct in time and place that they should be tried separately.21

Although the prosecutor submitted that the Kosovo case should not be tried first for various reasons, including that the Kosovo crimes occurred last chronologically and could be seen as a less substantial or grave case, the Trial Chamber decided the Kosovo case was to be tried first, beginning on February 12, 2002.22 The prosecutor appealed this decision and on February 1, 2002, the Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber’s order and decided all three cases should be joined in a single trial, but still starting with Kosovo as originally ordered by the Trial Chamber.23 The trial began on February 12, with the Kosovo case. The prosecutor concluded the Kosovo case on September 11, 2002 and began the Bosnia and Croatia part of her case on September 26. The prosecution rested its case on February 25, 2004, after over a dozen delays due to Milosevic’s ill-health.

After the close of its case, the amici curiae filed a motion on behalf of Milosevic pursuant to rule 98bis of the ICTY Rules of Procedure and Evidence, which allows an accused to file a motion for the entry of judgment of acquittal after the close of the prosecution’s case if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction based on those charges. On June 16, 2004, the Trial Chamber issued a lengthy opinion in which it determined that it had found sufficient evidence to support each count challenged in the indictments, but that there was no evidence or insufficient evidence to support certain allegations relevant to some of the charges.24 In other words, the Trial Chamber concluded that the prosecutor had presented enough probative evidence that, if accepted, and in the absence of a defense case, a reasonable trier of fact could find sufficient to sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt on all counts that were charged. However, the Chamber deemed that the prosecution had not put forward sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt all of the factual allegations relating to all the crime scenes included in the indictments.25

The defense case began on August 31, 2004, after several delays due to Milosevic’s poor health. The proceedings were officially terminated on March 14, 2006, after Slobodan Milosevic died. At the time of his death, Milosevic had approximately three weeks of time remaining for the presentation of his case.

4 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 713 (1991), S/RES/713(1991) , December 4, 2006), para. 6.

5 See Prosecutor v. Slobodan Milosevic, Case No. IT-02-54-T, Second Amended Indictment (Croatia), July 28, 2004, paras. 84-110.

6 See Prosecutor v. Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, Case No. IT-06-90, Joinder Indictment, July 21, 2006, paras. 22-37.

7 See Prosecutor v. Slobodan Milosevic, Case No. IT-02-54, Amended Indictment (Bosnia), November 22, 2002, paras. 52-79.

8 See Prosecutor v. Oric, Case No. IT-03-68, Third Amended Indictment, June 30, 2005; Prosecutor v. Naletilic and Martinovic, Case No. IT-98-34, Second Amended Indictment, October 16, 2001. (The defendants were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 20 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively by the Trial Chamber on March 31, 2003; their appeals were exhausted by the Appeals Chamber’s final judgment of May 3, 2006.)

9 The Kosovo Verification Mission, deployed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

10 For more background see Human Rights Watch, Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001),

11 See Prosecutor v. Milosevic, Case No. IT-99-37-PT, Second Amended Indictment (Kosovo), October 16, 2001, paras. 71-108.

12 Assigned as Case No. IT-99-37.

13 A joint criminal enterprise is a doctrine of liability whereby the accused is individually responsible if he acts in concert with others pursuant to a common criminal purpose with the same criminal intent.

14 As charged in the Second Amended Indictment, October 29, 2001, Case No. IT-99-37. Initially Milosevic and his co-defendants were charged with four counts (murder, deportation, and persecutions as crimes against humanity, and murder as a violation of the laws of war). The count of forcible transfer was added in the second amended indictment.

15 Order Inviting Designation of Amicus Curiae, August 30, 2001.

16 Assigned as Case No. IT-01-50. Initial Indictment (Croatia), October 8, 2001. The indictment was amended twice and the case number changed to Case No. IT-02-54.

17 Second Amended Indictment (Croatia), Case No. IT-02-54, July 28, 2004, para. 6.

18 Initial Indictment (Bosnia), Case No. IT-01-51, November 22, 2001.

19 The indictment was amended on April 21, 2004, under the new reference Case No. IT-02-54-T.

20 Decision on Prosecution’s Motion for Joinder, Case Nos. IT-99-37, IT-01-50, IT-01-51, December 13, 2001, para. 16.

21 Ibid., paras. 42-46.

22 Ibid., paras. 22-23, 52.

23 Decision on Prosecution Interlocutory Appeal from Refusal to Order Joinder, Case Nos. IT-99-37, IT-01-50, IT-01-51, February 1, 2002. See also Order for Commencement of Trial, February 4, 2002. Following the decision on joinder, the cases were consolidated and re-assigned as Case No. IT-02-54.

24 Decision on Motion for Judgement of Acquittal, June 16, 2004, para. 316.

25 Ibid., para. 9.